Remembrance Sunday in the year of 11.11.11
As Remembrance Sunday approaches, Anthony Lydekker looks at what’s going on across the country and reflects on this annual tradition
A never changing date in the Calendar
In a rapidly changing and hectic world, some things are pretty well fixed and those often revolve around what the Queen is doing, such as her official birthday and Remembrance Sunday which for many years has been the second Sunday in November. So there are usually two days of two minute silences: eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month and “the eleventh hour the second Sunday of November”. There will never ever be another 11.11.11 but next year 11th November falls on a Sunday, which happens every 28 years.
The warm up started on October 27 when the British Legion poppies went on sale backed by their 300,000 volunteers. So by 11.11.11 national awareness is high.
Remembrance Sunday services and parades take place throughout the UK, mostly at War Memorials, and in recent years attendances have been boosted by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most are small parish events with larger civic events in every city and larger towns.
The best way to check the details of parades and services in larger towns is the local authority web site usually ending in .gov.uk or .gov.org . Typical examples of the programmes presided over by the Mayors can be found in Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle. Assemble: around 10am, then march in a parade to a significant memorial with one or two bands from local regiments playing and all branches of the forces represented. At 11am: the two minutes’ silence; followed by bugle calls of the Last Post or Reveille; a short address; hymns and march off. In addition, Newcastle fires a 105mm field gun and Birmingham makes do with a ‘volley of rifle fire’ – using blanks, of course! All three cities have local BBC and commercial radio coverage.
So it’s far from being just a London event. In fact of all the annual open air London Ceremonial events, the Cenotaph service is one of the least accessible on foot as the main event happens within the limited width of Whitehall. But concentrated in that small area are key members of the Royal family, prime ministers past and present, all the High Commissioners of Commonwealth countries, service chiefs and many ambassadors and a march past lasting well over an hour, of a great many military and other uniformed organisations. It has a BBC TV audience of 3.7 million.
I was very fortunate two years ago to be in the press photographers’ pen and as you can see the opportunities to snap the ‘great and the good’, and some of the ‘not so good’, are unique.
Relatives who served in the two World Wars
There are few British families who did not lose a relative in the two World Wars and around Remembrance Sunday, many decide to follow this up. Today this can be done quite easily at the Imperial War Museum using their database of everyone who served in the British armed forces in the two world wars. It is also possible that a relative may be named on a memorial. The UK National Inventory of War Memorials holds records of 62,000 out of an estimated 100,000. This includes the lists of those commemorated on each memorial. Regrettably these figures have been in the news due to the theft and vandalism of metal plaques. See: www.ukniwm.org.uk
Over there: “Remembered” 365 days a year
There have been no land battles on British soil for hundreds of years and there is a growing market, for visits to battlefields and cemeteries worldwide. The core market lies just across the channel and mainly falls under ‘short breaks with a difference’. There are also more specialised tours for military enthusiasts, Regimental Associations and family history researchers.
Flanders is synonymous with the First World War and if there’s one place to use as a centre to visit battlefields and cemeteries, it has to be Ypres. It’s staggering to contemplate 60,000 deaths in one afternoon alone. Recalling the War is not just an annual event here, because every evening at 8pm the traffic stops and the Last Post is sounded at the Menin Gate: a tradition established back in 1928. The scale of the ceremony varies from just the buglers and a small gathering to full parades. The evening we were there, the programme with a full band included Waltzing Matilda and there was a party of Aussies in our hotel. One of the 150 cemeteries around Ypres, has a mass grave of 43,000 Australians.
It’s also worth noting that the anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation of 338,000 British troops in May 1940 no longer qualifies as a UK Government subsidised event, but remains the most significant annual holiday and celebration over there.
Further south are the miles of Normandy beaches. Particularly moving is the vast cemetery at Omaha Beach where the thousands of white crosses merge into almost permanent Channel mist as far as the eye can see and one can hear the sea breaking on The Beach and many of the dead were under 20. Don’t forget, of course, that these are all pretty good places for holiday activities as well.
Over here: getting to the monuments and villages
Returning to Blighty, why not save money, avoid driving stress, slow down and take the bus ? I can’t say that all the 62,000 monuments on record have adjacent bus stops but if the village is reached by a bus, a journey can be planned using two websites. Start with www.nationalexpress.com find the route in the general area, and check places in that route nearest to the village. Then look up www.ask.com and insert “bus timetables UL” plus name of village and local bus timetables can be tracked down. Good luck !